For most high school football teams, a pregame meal is as routine as the coin toss before kickoff.
Whether it’s for team-building, solving transportation issues or the need to properly fuel up before a physical 48-minute football game, feeding the team is part of the Friday night ritual.
But for some Midstate student-athletes, a hearty meal before the game can be anything but routine.
At Maplewood, healthy eating is one of the struggles of daily life for many players.
“I’m not speaking for every kid, but some kids might eat McDonald’s four days out of the week,” Maplewood coach Arcentae Broome said. “I guarantee that for some of my kids, that meal that we have on Friday, that’s the best meal they’ve eaten all week.”
Several local churches — some working through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — have pitched in to feed players at most Metro Nashville high schools.
The weekly meal — often fettuccine Alfredo, hot dogs, tacos or pizza — has been provided for the Maplewood football team since Broome’s arrival at the school six years ago. But the 1993 Stratford High School graduate and 12-year head-coaching veteran would be the first to admit the Panthers’ pregame feast wouldn’t be possible without some assistance.
Born Again Church in North Nashville has hosted the Panthers for pregame meals since 2010.
“They prepare the meals, they serve us, they do everything,” Broome said. “All we do is show up. I just tell the guys to be grateful for this. This wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have people who really cared.”
Maplewood senior lineman J’Son Greer added, “It helps us come together as one like a family that we’re ready on Friday nights. It’s a team-building thing. We’ve had lasagna, we’ve had ribs, we’ve had steak and potatoes. Delicious.”
Our Savior Lutheran Church provides pregame meals for Overton High School before its home games, while Judson Baptist hosts the team’s meals prior to away games.
“It builds team unity and bonding,” Bobcats coach Steve Williams said. “It gives our kids a chance to stay together on Friday afternoons, and we know that they’re going to get a good meal filled with carbohydrates, which they need in order to perform on Friday nights.”
McGavock coach Jay Gore added, “The church across the street, Donelson Fellowship Church, feeds us a meal every Thursday after our walkthrough, and then (Generation Changers Church) feeds us our pregame meal on Friday. They want to make an impact in the community and our kids get a good meal and a good lesson.
“We feel like it’s a win-win situation.”
A helping hand
Like several of the other churches involved, Born Again’s partnership with Maplewood began through its affiliation with the FCA.
“What (the FCA) really does is serve as like a go-between — a liaison between the church and schools,” Broome said.
Reginald Holder is a 1978 Maplewood graduate and an elder at Born Again Church, where he heads the church’s Made In His Image ministry, a men’s fellowship focused on “building men as leaders and role models, both spiritually and naturally in the home, workplace and church.”
He also heads the FCA and church’s effort at Maplewood, essentially serving as the team’s chaplain.
“A character coach is what the FCA calls it,” Holder said.
About 12 to 15 Born Again parishioners regularly help provide the dinners.
“I’d say there’s probably eight ladies, and there are probably four men that will set up tables in our large fellowship hall, which is where we feed them,” Holder said. “It’s a full congregation effort.”
More than a meal
In addition to the food that is provided, each pregame meal is accompanied by a speech from one of the church leaders — Holder or another elder or deacon — as well as a lesson from a guest speaker.
“We don’t just go there, eat and leave,” Broome said. “They’ll serve us the food, and they also have a guest speaker come talk to us, sometimes it’s somebody who played in the (National Football) League. You don’t always get a story that gets you fired up, but they get some base knowledge, something they can grow on.”
Broome said attending the pregame meal is mandatory for his players, but added that if a player wishes not to attend prayer or chapel, they may be excused.
“We’ve talked to kids about goal-setting, what motivates them and other things like that, so it isn’t always a spiritual biblical message,” Holder said.
Holder is not only providing a valuable service to the community, the work he does at Maplewood has also allowed him to stay connected to his community and former school.
“That’s what is fulfilling for me,” Holder said. “The kids start off kind of shy, but I’ve been able to get close with some of them, find out their stories and struggles they might be having at home or at school. Because we have been consistent, it has really helped allow them to open up and be able to talk to us.”
“They really have helped change kids’ lives as far as bringing them closer to God, which is huge,” Broome added.
Antioch Mt. Zion Baptist Church
East Nashville Belmont Church
Glencliff Long Hollow Baptist Church (Madison Campus)
Hillsboro St. Paul Community Church
Hillwood Belmont Church
Hunters Lane Long Hollow Baptist Church (Madison Campus)
Maplewood Born Again Church
McGavock Donelson Fellowship Church, Generation Changers Church
Overton Judson Baptist, Our Savior Lutheran Church
Pearl-Cohn Westwood Baptist Church
Stratford Family Affair Ministries
Whites Creek Mt. Zion Baptist Church